Editor's note: This story ran on Friday, two days before Jamie McMurray raced the Bass Pro Shops car to victory in the Daytona 500 on Sunday.
When Jamie McMurray found out at the end of last year that he'd be driving the Bass Pro Shops car, it was as if sister fates had collided. His two passions in life are driving and fishing, and now he is going to roar along the NASCAR oval with a 3-foot leaping bass on his hood.
The No. 1 car (driven previously by Martin Truex Jr.) comes with a well full of sponsorship dollars, but the peripheral benefits are what McMurray seems most excited about.
"I can remember as a child, I'd flip through every page of the Bass Pro catalog and mark all the fishing equipment I wanted. It was like a candy store," he said, grinning. That candy store was just 60 miles down the road from the Joplin, Mo., native -- Springfield is headquarters for Bass Pro Shops.
"If I was lucky enough to get new fishing gear for Christmas or a birthday, I had the best testing grounds in the world in my backyard," McMurray said. "My family had a pond and a strip pit that were just full of bass. My dad and I would go out and catch 20 or 30 bass every trip. It wasn't until I got much older that I realized how spoiled I was. I used to think everyone would go out and catch that many bass every trip."
Once his passion for driving overtook his passion for fishing, time on the water became scarce. McMurray raced his first NASCAR event (late models) in 1992 and slowly worked his way up the ranks until he made his debut in the Nextel Cup series in 2002.
In only his second start, he made a huge splash by winning the Lowe's Motor Speedway event, earning him the modern-era record of a driver winning a Cup race in the shortest amount of time.
McMurray's NASCAR career has been on the fast track ever since. He now spends more than 200 days a year on the road, leaving precious little time to pursue his outdoor hobbies, primarily bass fishing.
"Man, it's really tough to get on the water nowadays. Our schedules are hectic," he said. "I'll tell you, though, more than once I have run over to a local tackle store to buy a rod and reel to fish some of the lakes in the middle of the tracks. Last time we were in Homestead, I caught some pretty good peacock bass."
With the No. 1 fishing retailer in the world behind him now, he hopes to find more time for fishing.
"I've already seen a great upside to this new relationship," he said. "I got to fish a day with Roland Martin on Walt Disney World's Bay Lake, which is as good as my pond back home. We had a break in the Daytona 500 schedule, so Bass Pro hooked me up with one of the best anglers on the planet for a day of bass fishing. How awesome is that?"
And a day of fishing is exactly what he feels he needs to relieve the stress surrounding America's Race.
"The schedule is crazy for the 500," McMurray said. "The superspeedway races are very close together, and it is as much about strategy as it is having a fast car. You have to think a lap ahead of where you want to be. There's a tremendous amount of focus that goes into the race, along with the physical toll it takes on your body. And for me, even two or three days after I get off the track, my heart begins racing every time I think about the decisions I made. What could I have done differently? What did I do right? I just can't quit thinking about the race."
"So, it is so nice to get out here and take my mind off racing. Even last night, when I went to sleep, instead of thinking about the race, I couldn't quit thinking about getting on the lake and fishing with Roland Martin. It really helps to put the racing away for a day and recharge the batteries."
And has he had a chance to glance at the Bass Pro Shops catalog since the sponsorship was announced?
"When I walked into the Bass Pro store here [in Orlando], I was introduced to the manager and he told me to pick out some gear," McMurray said, grinning from ear to ear.
"I stuck with clothing, stuff to wear around the track and while I am off, but deep inside, I was dying to hit the rod-and-reel rack."